Archive for the ‘Wings’ Category

Adventures In Aviation: Zeppelin Flights

April 7, 2010

zeppelin flights san franciscoIn a world where many people have come to view flying as an ordeal to be endured, there are still lots of us for whom the act of leaving terra firma behind remains an adventure to be savored.  If you’re one of us, you owe it to yourself to book a seat on the first zeppelin to take to the skies above the U.S. in more than 70 years.

The company responsible for the zeppelin’s return to America, Airship Ventures, offers one- and two-hour flight-seeing tours around San Francisco Bay in the 246-foot helium-filled Eureka, as well as occasional cross-country flights as they reposition the zeppelin for tours in southern California or Monterey (if you have your private pilot’s license you can even take a turn at the controls). Between the zeppelin’s gentle flight characteristics—three 200-horsepower engines in rotating nacelles allow pilots to make this 747-sized airship hover, climb, and descend like a helicopter—and its huge panoramic windows, there simply isn’t a better platform for airborne rubbernecking out there.

Then, of course, there’s the sheer rarity of the experience.  The Eureka is the largest airship in existence and one of only three zeppelins operating anywhere in the world, facts that should earn you some bragging rights back home.

Ultimately though, all that grown-up appeal vanishes the moment you climb aboard.  From aerial views of Alcatraz and the city’s dramatic skyline to an amazing Golden Gate fly-by, even serious “been there, flown in that” aviation geeks (umm, like me for instance) are likely to find themselves with their noses pressed up against the glass like wide-eyed 10-year-olds.

In the end, it’s this sense of wonder that makes these zeppelin flights such an extraordinary experience.  Even for all those poor jaded folks who insist they don’t like flying.


Full Of Hot Air: How To Be Part Of A Mass Ascension At The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

High-Flying History: Take Off In A World War II B-17

Lindbergh’s Legacy: Powered Hang-Gliding Flights Above Lucky Lindy’s Maui Home


Air Amour

August 13, 2009

Here’s one of those stories we couldn’t make up.  It seems that Brisbane, Australia-based Erotic Airways is now offering private charter flights to couples (or threesomes, if you’re so inclined) looking to earn their membership in the legendary “Mile-High Club.”

milehighRather than trying to squeeze yourself and your partner into the cramped lavatory of a commercial airliner in an attempt to, ahem, fly united, the Erotic Airways folks set you up with a double bed covered in satin sheets in the back of a vintage twin-engine Beech H-18S.  Flights last either 40- or 60-minutes and come complete with mood-enhancers including champagne, chocolates and more.

Once you’ve done the deed and are safely back on the ground, the airline provides a certificate commemorating your sex-perience (their term, not ours).  Now won‘t that be an interesting conversation-starter when you hang it on your office wall?

For a list of charter operations that offer mile-high flights closer to home go here.  For other equally exciting (though admittedly G-rated) airborne adventures, check out our Xperiences page.

Giggles Per Greenback

January 26, 2009

meterLook, I watch the nonstop gloom-and-doom festival they call the nightly news and I know that times are tough all over.  But I also know that, if ever there was a time when we could all use to blow off a little steam and have a few laughs, well, this is it.

Which is why I’ve created  a thoroughly unscientific list of extraordinary experiences that I feel are outstanding values.  We’re talking about maximum yucks for minimum bucks

All will set you back less than $500.  Which seems like a small price to pay for an adventure guaranteed to make you forget all those news reports that had you feeling so freaky-freaky in the first place:


Heavy-Duty Therapy

Feeling frustrated?  Powerless?  Here’s my prescription: Take a few hours of tearing stuff up behind the controls of a 20-ton bulldozer or tracked excavator and call me in the morning.

 Mellow Out With Manatees

Remember the old Get Smart episode with the retrogressor gun, a device that made everyone act like a goofy eight-year-old kid for 30 minutes?  Coming face-to-face with a Florida manatee is just like that, only wetter.

Paragliding For Perspective

Sometimes, when things look bad, it helps to try a different perspective.  Like cruising hundreds of feet above the Pacific on an hour-long tandem paraglider flight from La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Gliderport.

Driven To Distraction

Car lovers looking for a little four-wheeled escapism need look no further than Detroit’s annual Woodward Dream Cruise.  If 12 hours of rubbernecking at 40,000 hot rods, customs, and classics doesn’t distract you from your troubles, nothing will.

Golden Opportunity

Who couldn’t use a little extra cash right about now, you know, for little luxuries like rent and groceries?  Well, allow me to suggest you go pick it up from the source on one of these gold prospecting adventures.

Iron Butt It!

For me, riding a motorcycle has always been a great way to decompress.  Add the gorgeous scenery and mental challenges of riding in a 24-hour endurance rally like the Utah 1088 and you have an experience that is both extraordinary and therapeutic.

Fais Do-Do At Fred’s

If there were a graduate-level course in forgetting your worries, they’d teach it during the weekly Saturday morning Cajun dance party at the legendary Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, Louisiana.  Don’t believe me?  Go ahead, show up here and try and have a bad time here, I dare you.

Run Flat Out

Life is complicated.  Which explains the appeal of running in the USFRA’s 130 MPH Club on the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Pull up to the starting line, stand on the gas pedal, grin like an idiot, and hang on.  If only everything were this simple.

Leap Of Faith

Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane may seem a little nutty, but I’ll tell you this: If there’s a more fully-alive-in-the-present-moment experience on this planet, I haven’t found it.  Plus, after watching them open that door at 14,000 feet, nothing you face in your everyday life will ever seem all that scary again.

Asleep In The Cockpit

January 17, 2009

19286While I’m not a card-carrying aviation geek like some of my friends, one look at the list of adventures collected on’s Xperiences page and it’s not hard to tell I’m into pretty much anything that flies.  Which may explain why the new Jumbo Hostel at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport caught my eye.

Built inside the shell of a mid-1970s-vintage Boeing 747-200 that’s been grounded at the airport’s entrance, this budget-priced hostel makes a way-cool alternative to your typically dreary airport hotels.  Inside are two-dozen rooms that range from bunk bed-equipped dormitory-style digs to a “Cockpit Suite” that retains many of the flight deck’s original gauges and controls and offers an impressive view of the action on the airport’s runways.  All rooms include flat-screen TVs (with a channel devoted to flight arrival and departure times) and wireless internet access.  Curious travelers and aviation geeks (you know who you are) will want to check out this video tour.


More than anything else though, the Jumbo Hostel offers something you might never have thought possible—the chance to get a really good night’s sleep on an airplane!

8 Great (Affordable) Gift Ideas

December 9, 2008

It’s time for’s first-annual holiday gift guide.  And, if you’re a regular follower of this space, you probably already know how I feel about giving and getting more stuff that, let’s face it, none of us really needs.  But giving someone an extraordinary experience? Ah, well, that’s a different story altogether.

So with a nod to the dark clouds that seem to be hanging over the global economy in general and many folks personal finances in particular right now, I thought I’d focus on extraordinary experiences you can give that will blow the recipient’s socks off without breaking the bank (herein defined as under $200).

In no particular order then, here are my Eight Great Extraordinary Gift Ideas:

For The Jaded: Paragliding Above The Pacific

If you give this gift to someone and they’re not completely wowed, well, I suggest you immediately check them for signs of a pulse.  And even though the idea of running off the edge of a 300-foot cliff may sound a little daunting, you can rest assured knowing that paragliding is actually one of the safest and most serene forms of flight. 

For The Athletic: Wild Cave Tour

If you’ve got someone on your list who’s in good shape and likes a challenge, six hours of climbing, crawling, and squeezing through impossibly tight cracks in the depths of Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave will give them a spelunking experience they won’t soon forget.

 For The Nature Lover: Swim With Manatees

From personal experience I can tell you there’s no more moving interspecies encounter than coming face-to-face—literally—with these gentle creatures in the crystal-clear waters off Florida’s west coast.

 For The Speed Freak: Joining The 130 MPH Club

Know someone with a lead foot? Here’s your chance to feed their need for speed by allowing them to set their own personal land speed record on the world-famous Bonneville Salt Flats.

 For The Big Kid:  Sleeping In A Treehouse

C’mon now, what kid (of any age) wouldn’t like to spend the night in a really cool treehouse?  Add the fact that most of the over-the-top “rooms” at this arboreal bed-and-breakfast have a long list of grown-up creature comforts and your gift-givee may not want to come down.

 For The History Buff:  Civil War Adventure Camp

I like historical attractions as much as the next guy. But, let’s face it, some can be a little dull.  Petersburg, Virginia’s Pamplin Historical Park changes all that with a 24-hour program that gives participants the chance to live the life of a civil war soldier right down to firing actual muzzleloaders!

 For The Sailor: Command An America’s Cup Yacht

To a sailing aficionado, being allowed to take the wheel of an 80-foot America’s Cup contender is like being handed the keys to a Ferrari.  Add the warm sunshine, cool breezes, and stunning scenery of San Diego Bay and you have a great way to spend the day. 

 For The Cash-Strapped: Panning For Gold

When it comes right down to it, who couldn’t use a little extra walking around money right now?  Which is why we love the idea of spending the day panning for gold—which is still going for around $800 an ounce—in the creeks of California’s gold country. 

 If none of these tickle your fancy, you’ll find lots more ideas on our Xperiences page.


This Zeppelin Really Rocks!

November 7, 2008

Much as I like Led Zeppelin, it’s not the seventies-era heavy metal band I’m referring to here.  No, I’m talking about the real thing, Airship Ventures’ new San Francisco-based Zeppelin NT.

Airship VenturesThe 246-foot-long airship—which just started offering “flight-seeing” tours of the Bay Area and California wine country this week—was built in Germany (where else?) and is one of only three zeppelins flying worldwide.  Unlike blimps, these zeppelins use a lightweight internal aluminum and carbon-fiber framework to support the three 200-horsepower Lycoming engines and the 35-foot-long 12-passenger gondola.  Lift comes from an envelope filled with enough non-flammable helium to make the entire city of San Francisco talk in a funny cartoon-character voice for weeks.

I was lucky enough to schmooze my way onto the Saturn blimp a few years ago, and though I found it to be a really cool experience, I’ve never written about blimp flights because they simply weren’t available to the general public.  Which is why I’m so excited about this new zeppelin operation, because it offers a chance for anyone to experience this uniquely tranquil and scenic form of powered flight.

So I’m now working on getting a flight aboard this new zeppelin—the first to fly over American soil for more than 70 years—and will bring you the full story of what promises to be a truly extraordinary experience on our Xperiences page ASAP.  Till then, we’ll both have to be content with some of the cool photos courtesy of the Airship Ventures blog.


Lindbergh’s Legacy

August 26, 2008

“I lose all connection with the past. I live only in the moment in this strange, unmortal space, crowded with beauty, pierced with danger.”

That’s how Charles Lindbergh described his first airplane ride in 1922, just five short years before he made the famous New York-Paris transatlantic crossing that would earn him an enduring place in U.S. history.

Obviously Lucky Lindy experienced something on that first flight—“the freedom of the sky” he called it—that would change the course of his life forever.  Now you can get a firsthand feel for the joy of flight he was describing just down the coast from where the famous aviator died on the Hawaiian island of Maui 34 years ago today.

Hang Gliding Maui offers 30-minute “instructional” powered hang glider flights over the island’s lush eastern coast from the tiny asphalt airstrip they call Hana Airport.  Being a sucker for anything that flies, I went up with owner and chief pilot Armin Engert a couple years ago and can tell you that his propeller-driven two-seat trike suspended from a large triangular hang glider wing delivers a truly extraordinary experience—a full-on sensory overload really—that I’m quite certain Lindbergh would have loved.  To see what I mean, check out the photo gallery here.